Adultery and Lust

Adultery and Lust

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:27-28

Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. It seems like I recall Jimmy Carter confessing that he had committed adultery in his heart in this way. Being a man it is hard to imagine how any normal man reaching physical sexual maturity could always and only avoid committing adultery in this way. Frankly, I am a spiritually hardcore Christian man, but this standard which Jesus set forth has always troubled me. I perceive the mechanics of male sexual interest in a woman to be God given. When I see the curve of an attractive woman’s breast, hip, thigh or bottom or the features of a beautiful woman’s well formed arms, neck and shoulders it evokes a reaction, a sexual reaction that seems to me must be God given. Is this God given reaction then adultery? Men are sexually visually oriented. They respond with carnal desire to the appearance of sexual health and beauty in a woman. Jesus goes on to say the following.

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Matthew 5:29

That is a hard remedy. If we were to admit that the vast majority of Christian men commit adultery in this way and we can also observe that the vast majority of Christian men do not have their eyes gouged out to inoculate themselves from this “SIIIIIIIINNNNNN!!!” it must be that most of us just capitulate to the impossibility of living up to this super human standard.

Maybe the standard only applies to married women. That is, men are only prohibited from lusting after married women. How legalistic do we need to be with this burden?

There is this little portion of the law of Moses found in Exodus which speaks to this issue.

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.”
Exodus 22:16-17

So under this law specification in Exodus if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged and has his way with her he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife even if her father refuses to give her to him. So premarital sex was not necessarily punishable by death and perhaps our modern permissive western take on sex among the single is more acceptable than is typically thought in conservative Christian circles.

In the Hebrew culture of the Old Testament women were not equal with men. They had a value but the Hebrew culture was intensely patriarchal. Women were more than livestock but less than men in their innate value. A virgin daughter had a dollar value. If someone seduced and violated a virgin taking her virginity then her value as a bride, as a wife and as a woman had been usurped and consumed. The father of the girl had to be compensated for that value. The daughter was an asset of the father in whom he had a life investment and if she had been seduced and taken sexually that asset had possibly lost all of its commercial value.

Notice from the passage in Exodus that it says “who is not engaged.” If a woman was engaged she had the status of wife. Perhaps then seducing a woman engaged to another man would constitute adultery and incur the more severe consequences of adultery under the laws of Moses. Today in modern western civilization women have become as close to equal with men in all things as can be contrived and enforced by laws and norms. So in our society if a single man is intimate with a single woman it is thought that he takes no more from her than she takes from him. There is no dowry, no bride price to be paid where both the man and the woman are equal and of equal value. If that is true then perhaps our permissive and promiscuous society is more palatable to God than morally conservative Christianity believes.

Perhaps Jesus was only talking about looking upon and lusting after an engaged or married woman in Matthew chapter five. I am not sure. For the record, I am with Jimmy Carter. I have broken this one badly since I was about eleven or twelve years old. It is hard to know how I could have lived my life and not violated this standard unless I had been blinded and castrated as a prepubescent male child. For the Love of God, what are we men supposed to do with this impossible standard? Jesus was a man and Jesus was said to be sinless. If that is true then he never looked upon a woman with lust and thereby committed adultery with her in His heart. That is a truly divine accomplishment.

I do not clearly know what to conclude about sexual promiscuity in modern western civilization and the will and attitude of God toward us. I do not know exactly how God perceives this situation but I would suggest that when a man and a woman are intimate even in our sexually permissive society, they take something more than body fluids from one another, something intangible, something of their heart and mind, soul and spirit and that is where prudence is needed. Perhaps Jesus looked upon all women as children of God first and foremost and that prevented him from lusting after them physically. Again, this is not the sort of healthy spiritual perspective I can claim for myself but I recognize that this standard of Christ reaches to the substance of the love of God and spiritual life and well beyond our preoccupation with flesh and sensual pleasure. So perhaps men and women everywhere in our society owe each of their many sexual partners a dowry of the heart and mind, soul and spirit for casually taking from one another that aspect of life that was intended to be shared with only one very special and deeply loved partner. Surely the key to this concept, the key to God’s perspective on human sexuality must be found in the blending of true love and vibrant sensuality in the private intimacy of a devoted husband and wife.


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